Cherokee Nation Fights Opioid Misuse through Education, Prevention Programs

Published April 18, 2019

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — Cherokee Nation Behavioral Health is making an impact on Cherokee families with programs that focus on education, prevention and medication-assisted recovery to end opioid misuse in Indian Country.

“Our main goal is to use science in action to reach into our communities and show those struggling with addiction that there is a way out and their family and friends that there is hope,” said Juli Skinner, Cherokee Nation Behavioral Health clinic administrator. “We’re already seeing shifts of attitude and access within our target communities and clinics.”

The behavioral health team works with community groups, local law enforcement, Cherokee Nation Health Services and area schools to help educate about the misuse of opioids and the proper use and storage of them, as well as offer community-wide drug take-back events and a variety of counseling and support services.

“It’s just as much about preventing misuse and abuse as it is stopping an overdose,” said Sam Bradshaw, director of Cherokee Nation Prevention. “We are currently pioneering tribal medication-assisted recovery practices and continue to support safe solutions for opioid storage and disposal within our network of communities.”

Since 2014, the tribe has received more than $7 million in grant funding from sources like the Indian Health Service Department of Health and Human Services and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMSHA). Those multiyear grants helped start six key programs, including the Community Action Network (CAN), Cherokee Nation Tribal Opioid Response (TOR), Think SMART Oklahoma, Restoring Lives Network, Drug-free Communities and Project HOPE.

“The programs we’ve developed are evidence-based practices and include activities like peer-to-peer trainings for law enforcement and other first responders to use a lifesaving opioid overdose antidote called naloxone,” Bradshaw said. “We distribute Narcan, a nasal spray form of naloxone, to first responder agencies who attend our trainings, and we also resupply them as the need arises.”

In addition to the key programs, behavioral health officials have also worked closely on projects like the Cherokee Nation Opioid Task Force, the Hepatitis-C Elimination Project and the medication-assisted opioid treatment expansion.

“Opioid addiction doesn’t look like what you would think,” Bradshaw said. “It’s our mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, siblings, cousins and our children. Increasing awareness of the effects this drug has on the individual and the community, as well as access to services to provide help, is the best way to fight this crisis.”

To learn more about the Community Action Network and their work to end opioid misuse in a community near you, visit www.thinksmartok.org/our-partners.

For more information about opioid addiction assistance, contact Cherokee Nation Behavioral Health and Prevention at 918-207-4977.

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